11 March 2019
Around six years ago, I stood outside what is now UKFast’s home, describing a vision of a tech campus that spread across the whole site, creating hundreds if not thousands of jobs, and becoming a hub for the community.
I am pretty certain that the teammates that I was describing this to thought I had perhaps had one too many coffees that morning and humoured me! They knew I was a dreamer but I think the thought of transforming the sad-looking, empty office block into a campus with a slide, a gym and a giant chess board in the reception area was too much of a leap.
However, a couple of years down the line, we officially opened UKFast Campus at Archway 1. It seemed like a massive space for our team. We’d been cooped into City Tower, across two floors, where we were bursting at the seams.
Now, suddenly, we had 50,000sq ft of space.
Very quickly though, that space became tighter and tighter. I have always committed to having 60% workspace and 40% recreational space, and the rate at which we were growing was threatening that ratio – we needed more space! It’s so important to maintain this ratio of space for ‘other areas’ to give teammates the space to really switch off and recharge, whether that’s in the gym or in a sleeping pod.
In 2016, we confirmed that we were to almost double the space with a landmark property deal for Archway 3. This time, when I spoke of a tech accelerator space, a yoga loft and a health-food café going into the site, there were fewer raised eyebrows. Having delivered on the dream of Archway 1, recreating that energy and atmosphere in the second building didn’t seem too much of a stretch.
This all makes it sounds easy, but there’s no denying it was a logistical nightmare for some time. For just one example, we had some teams in the new building, whilst others stayed in the City Tower space until their area was ready at the Campus – we became experts at ferrying people back and forth through the city centre traffic. Equally, at some points we had nowhere near enough car-parking spaces because building trucks or cranes were taking over while the redesign happened, or we had an event on in the auditorium and car-park carnage ensued.
It would be incredibly easy to become disheartened when these small issues build up over time. We’re ultimately trying to make our team’s and the wider communities’ lives easier, yet there were times when it felt like everywhere we turned, we hit a roadblock. It would also be natural to think: “Have I dreamt too big this time?” However, I knew deep down that we were doing the right thing. Gail and I had a vision for what was to come for UKFast and the site around us.
Now, the redevelopment of the second building is well in progress. We have an incredible event space over there which seats up to 500 people. We’ve also opened up the tech accelerator space to the community, which is something I am incredibly proud of. There are already startups in there who are beginning to really find their way in the industry.
In maintaining that ratio of workspace to ‘other’ space, we’ve also enabled the creation of an extraordinary training and education facility. Not only do we run our award-winning apprenticeship scheme from here, we also run training for the entire team and for the community. We run ‘teach the teachers’ sessions to help develop coding in schools, as well as coding sessions with schoolchildren themselves.
An evolution for the future
So today, we announce the third stage of UKFast Campus’ evolution. We’ve agreed a deal with Manchester City Council to acquire a further 120,000sq ft of land – the space directly opposite our campus buildings.
The expansion will see us really making the most of land that currently sits unused. Of course, it’s another big dream; it’s ambitious. However, this land is the next phase in our mission to create a hub that ultimately benefits the wider tech community and Manchester as a whole. We’re seeing the past six years of work coming into fruition now, with young people excited to come to coding sessions, charities and community groups holding events for free at our site, and young people starting exciting careers in the fast-paced world of tech.
I am proud that we’re able to contribute to the ongoing regeneration of Hulme and the surrounding area, and of our continued work to support the community. I’m also incredibly proud of the UKFast team who have been with us on this journey, sharing their ideas for the Campus and having limitless patience as the building team create this incredible hub around them. I cannot wait to see these exciting plans – and big dreams – take shape.